You Can Art Journal: Art Journaling 101

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Art Journal by Peregrine on Flickr

Art journals may look intimidating, but in reality they are the ultimate expression of YOU.  And you can make one! An art journal is any place you capture your thoughts with the aid of illustrations. Your art journal can be a place for your deepest thoughts or just where you stash things that inspire you! You don't need to be an artist to keep an art journal; it's art if you say it is! We'll give you some techniques and ideas to get you started here, but nothing is wrong in your art journal. If you like it, it's art. Your art journal should make you happy when you look at it and inspire you creatively, so whatever you choose to include is good. There is no wrong! Digital or Paper? Just like scrapbooking, art journaling is migrating onto our computers. Many digital scrapbookers use paper art journals as an outlet for their paint and glue creativity, but many prefer to art journal where they scrap - on the computer. Let's look at what you need to get started for either kind of art journaling.

The Book

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Art Journal by Scrappycath

Paper: You can art journal in anything - a sketchbook, a bound journal, a wire-bound notebook or even digitally! Find something that makes you happy and that you will use. If the thought of paint and glue gives you the heebie-jeebies, then a digital journal is probably for you. If you enjoy the different skills and materials of working with paper, look for a paper book. You will want the pages to be fairly heavy stock to handle paint, glue and embellishments. Some people even recycle old books as art journals.Digital: Do you have to print a digital art journal? Not at all. Can you? Of course. Whatever gets you excited you should do. Some people just upload to a dedicated Flickr stream and share that way. Others print and put in albums or print to photobooks. You could print a particularly special page on canvas and hang it as a gallery wrap! There is no wrong, it's what's right for you.

The Base

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Mend by skye_zak

Paper: A good foundation is important in anything you do and for your paper journal you'll want to start with gesso. Gesso is available with the acrylic paints in the craft store and is used as a primer. It'll help cover up things you don't want to see and keep paint from seeping through your pages. When it dries, it is flexible and a thin coat is all you need. It's a good idea to gesso any page where you'll be using paint or glue: this will keep your pages from wrinkling too much.You can gesso up more than one page and separate them with waxed paper after they've dried a little. This way you can gesso ahead and the pages will still dry but not stick together. Add some acrylic or watercolor paint for color if you'd like and you've got a good base to start embellishing and journaling.
Digital: You have your choice of sizes and shapes to work with, so you might let your output decision determine your base page. Will you be printing on canvas? Twelve inches-by-twelve inches or larger is probably a good idea. Sharing online only? A smaller size will take up less hard drive space and look just as good online. Try something out of your comfort zone! If you're a square scrapper, do your Art Journal at five-by-seven. Anything goes with digital! For backgrounds you can start with existing papers, often people prefer painted looking ones. Or you can build your own background by layering brush strokes and color splashes. There are many paint-style brushes available for the various software programs; run a google search and you're sure to find something to stir your creativity.

The Embellishments

Paper: You can add just about anything you can find into your art journal! Glue, sew, decoupage or use brads to attach what you find. Many paper art journalers collect images to use in files.  Cut things out of magazines, newspapers and old damaged books; save tickets, brochures, labels. Don't forget photos. If you print your own photos you will want to color copy them or laser print them (or of course have them printed on photo paper) so they can handle the glue and paint you'll be using. Inkjet prints will run if you use a wet medium.
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Lost in a Feeling by Bush Girl

Digital: You can add anything you want to your art journal, but what you'll find is a lot of digital art journalists mimic the look of paper pages. You can type text on a photo or colored background then "cut it out" using a polygonal lasso tool or other selection tool to look like it was cut from a magazine. Use paint stroke brushes on paper then cut shapes from that. Digitally cut pieces out of your photos and mix and match them. There are even designers putting out kits with images that lend themselves to the art journal look (see resources at the end of this article).

The Journaling

Paper and Digital: What to journal about? Anything! Some people do themed books, others just do whatever appeals to them that day. As with all creative ventures we often need inspiration. You might find it in your materials: look through a magazine and find an image that suggests a page or look through your stash of saved images. You can try looking online for prompts, there are several sites that publish them regularly (see resources below).The most important thing about art journaling is that you are doing something that pleases you. If you like to draw, draw! If you are inspired by images in magazines or books, use those. If you feel arty and creative when you paint, do that. There is no wrong way to art journal, as long as you keep creating!
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Life by crystalbella77

What DST Members Say about Art Journaling

What is YOUR definition of art journaling? Art Journaling, also called Visual Journaling, Artist's Book, Sketch Book, Visual Diary, and a miriad of other names, is a place to record your thoughts. Visual thoughts. Good thoughts, bad thoughts, dreams, nightmares, hopes, grocery lists, anything you want to put on the page. - sherriejd Why should someone new to these techniques consider trying them out? Making a journal is just fun. It's not something that one has to be perfect at. The messier the better, lots of doodling and doodled handwritten messages look great plus whatever art work you include whether a photo, doodled, drawn is just what makes it your own expression of how you feel. - Barb Speck How did YOU start art journaling or doing altered art? I started creating altered art in 2007, when I was introduced to ATC's by Carla Gibson at Oscraps. I'm on SherrieJD's Creative Team and started creating paper Art Journal pages since she started the Countdown to Christmas workshop. - madigirl


Paper and Digital: Paper: Digital:


Paper: Digital:
We know there are so many more.  Please add a link to art journaling supplies you love in the comments!    Send article as PDF   
  • Dawn Herring

    I started an art journal this year, being an avid journaling fan of over 25 years. I love the photos and explanations you include to make art journaling accessible to anyone. It gives the feel of experimentation and fun! I have always been a word journal keeper, but I find art journaling to wake up the creative side in addition to any writing I include. This post is fabulous for those who may want to step outside the box and try something colorful and image related. I’m also a hug fan of collage, which art journaling encourages. So, it’s all good!

    I have chosen your post, You Can Art Journal: Art Journaling 101, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 10/4/11 for all things journaling on Twitter. I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website, Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal:

    You’re welcome to join us for #JournalChat Live on Twitter for all things journaling on Thursdays at 4 CST/2 PST; our topic this week is how our journaling changes over time with our life experience.

    Thanks again for such a fab tutorial on art journaling.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Jennifer, great post with methods and examples, especially for beginning art journalers. Like Dawn, I am mostly a verbal journaler, but from time to time, words fail. When that happens, I pull out my watercolor pencils and express myself with color and form. Also, though I journal almost exclusively on the computer, when it comes to art, I prefer the tactile sensations of paper, pencil, water, and paints.

  • Tammy

    Hi there,
    Awesome work.
    Wondering if you can help me.
    I have been looking for the image of the little boy with suspenders all over.
    Can you tell me where to find it?
    Thanks so much.